Tromsø, a late winter sunny Sunday

Subject: Tromsø, a late winter sunny Sunday
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 14 Apr 2002 23:55:21 +0200

                                TROMSØ ON A LATE WINTER SUNNY SUNDAY

When I returned from the Antarctic via Holland earlier this week, I moved
from full spring, with pear orchards in flower and a loud chorus of
thrushes, finches and warblers to stormy winds, sleet and hail; this month
the differences between 53*N and 70*N is at its maximum.

Still, this has been an 'easy winter' by our standards, with not too much
snow, periods of mild weather and early signs of spring. Snow depth is
today only 60 cm----and near shore large areas are almost snow free---, a
far cry from the > 2m 5 years ago during our big snow winter (record depth
2.43m on 29th April!).

And this Sunday was wonderful: temperature around freezing, almost no wind,
and the sun shining from almost cloud-free skies; no wonder then that there
were parking problems near our local 'beach', a grassy area along the
fjord---you never know when next there will be a Sunday like this! I myself
walked my usual walks along the fjord to the airport, and through
Folkeparken to the museum.

In my garden the snow still reigns almost supreme--and my car is still
stuck in the garage---, but the streets are mostly bare, and the path
through Folkeparken a mixture of rotten snow and ice. In the park
Greenfinches are now once more extremely common, and their pleasant trills
and irritated rasps are everywhere. Also the Great Tits sing already
regularly, but Willow Tits and Bullfinches are still inconspicuous..

On the snowfree fields along the shore road (where hundreds of houses have
been built the last years, so nature is losing out even here) there were
smaller and larger flocks of Snow Buntings everywhere, and their musical
trills were the dominating bird sound today. These Snow Buntings, almost
all still in full winter plumage, are Greenland breeders, that winter in
Russia, and stage for some weeks along the coasts of N.Norway before
venturing out on the long and risky Atlantic crossing. Today there were
thousands only along the few km of road that I walked; they concentrate on
arable land, where they search for seeds; they avoid the freshly ploughed
areas. On the fields they have company of Mallards (that have wintered
along the shoreline), Hooded Crows, Common Gulls---returned already in
numbers--- and here and there a Lapwing, another early returnee. Twice I
also saw a Curlew, and once I even heard a short display, the wonderful
bronze flute of these birds. Curlews winter in our area, although not on
the island (They prefer larger mudflats), in very small numbers, so one can
never be entirely sure whether or not the birds one sees, really are the
first returning migrants.

That is easier with the Oystercatchers, also back in full strength, i.e.
one pair at about every 100m of shoreline, as these rarely winter here.
Also the returned Starlings are most probably true migrants. The situation
for the Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls is more complicated: they are
here all year, but the birds in winter may come from further north and
east, while many of our birds migrate to and winter in the North Sea area.

Common Eiders are very numerous and conspicuous now and their display coos
sound everywhere. A beautiful male King Eider glistened in the sun in the
middle of the fjord, where there also were the usual scattered flocks of
Long-tailed Ducks and some scoters. The number of Cormorants on their
skerry near the airport had diminished to only two, in its way also a sign
of spring. But the lazily flapping Grey Heron is now a resident of the
area, although a newcomer of the last ten years.

On land there is very little green as yet, although with some optimism one
can consider the alders and certainly the willows as having growing buds,
and along the roads the yellow stars of Coltsfoot twinkle many places. The
ubiquitous magpies are busily building their round stick nests and lining
them with smaller twigs and old grass, and the males follow their females
whereever they fly---this is a dangerous period for extramarital
adventures. Also the small colonies of House Sparrows are much more
conspicuous now again, after being almost invisible in midwinter. And a
displaying Willow Grouse got so carried away with spring feelings, that he
sailed low over a busy crossing and narrowly escaped the cars.

Will it last and will we have an early spring (by our standards, mid May or
thereabouts) this year?. It is too ealry to say; as i said the snow record
was on 29 April. But one thing is certain: daylight will be ten minutes
longer each day, and the midnight sun is only a bit over a month away!!

14 April 2002
                                                                        Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum
Tromsø, Norway

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